Minnesotans experience the good and bad of North Dakota oil boom

6:52 AM, Oct 29, 2012   |    comments
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WILLISTON, North Dakota - What was once the sleepy town of Williston on the western edge of North Dakota is now wide awake, serving as the epicenter of an oil boom that is changing the landscape of this region.

"The oil industry is spending about two billion a month out here just drilling wells," said Williston Economic Development Director Tom Rolfstad.

Unemployment is virtually non-existent and promise seems to be oozing out as fast as the oil.

"The impact to the country and to the world is significant. It isn't just our economy, we're helping the entire country," he said.

If you get a job on the oil field, Rolfstad says you could be making a six-figure salary.

All of that is the face of what is working here, Tyler Pavlacky is the face of what is not.

"(You) don't shower for a week. No food. It's rough. Trying to find a place to go to the bathroom you wouldn't think is so hard," he said.

This 24-year old father from Minneapolis came here looking for work.

He lived in his car for the first couple weeks and much of his possessions still do; this while his girlfriend and 2-year-old daughter live back home in Minneapolis.

"This is my favorite picture," he said of his daughter.

"How often do you look at those?" asked reporter Jay Olstad.

"I try not to actually, try to keep my mind off of it," he replied.

Barely making ends meet in the Twin Cities, he made the difficult decision to temporarily leave his family behind in hopes of finding a better life here.

The only problem, if you don't have experience in the oil fields, finding a job at one of the oil companies is almost as hard as finding a place to sleep.

There are so many people here. The population has nearly doubled in only a few years and affordable for some is outrageous to others.

"$700 a week and they call it affordable housing," he said with a smile, referring to an advertisement for a new hotel in town.

Pavlacky came to Williston with his brother-in-law Zach Betland.

"We've been surviving off of Raman noodles and Chef Boyardee," said Betland.

Both eventually found a place to stay, living in a tent at a campsite 15 miles outside of town.

Although both had jobs at McDonalds, they could not afford much when we met up with them, eating maybe once a day. Pavlacky says he's lost 15 pounds so far.

That's why they knew they have to find something better, and fast.

Tyler spends a lot of his time at the Williston Job Center looking for better jobs. And he's not the only one.

"I have never seen anything like this before," said Cindy Stanford, the job center manager.

She says this small office gets 200 people in here a day looking for work.

"You have to be skilled. You need to have skills. Skilled carpenters, welders, truck drivers," she said.

And having a place to live helps too.

"We're telling people who have housing to put it on their resume because that's a plus," she said.

But there is one thing Williston is not short on, crime.

"Gun calls have gone up, stabbings, knives, all those kinds of calls have also been on the rise," said Detective Amy Nickoloff with the Williston Police Department.

Nickoloff is originally from Minnesota, along with almost half of the police department. It's a department that is overwhelmed. Calls for service have increased 260 percent in just two years.

She says they are looking to add more staff.

"It's relatively safe but obviously when you bring in an influx of people you're going to have a higher crime rate," she said.

State legislator Gary Sukut who represents Williston is trying to calm the concerns.

"This is kind of happened overnight," he said. "We keep telling people to be patient. We've got another two, three, four years of frustrating times to take care of everything we need."

Time, however was not on Tyler Pavlacki's side. The harsh winter had not settled in, but homesickness did.

"It's really tough to say that daddy will be back later. She doesn't know when," he said.

He eventually moved back to Minnesota, in part to be closer to his family. His brother-in-law is still out in North Dakota and living in a camper, according to Pavlacky.

"I'm not trying to go back to Minnesota empty handed," said Betland.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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